Monday, January 26, 2009

"No Substitutions. No Ketchup." -- Black Rabbit Bistro

The clarification that appears at the bottom of the menu sets the tone of this Eugene restaurant gem. "No Substitutions. No Ketchup." Like you could ever need Ketchup on any of the delectable dishes offered at this affordable high-brow bistro. 

The Black Rabbit Bistro, not to be confused as The Rabbit Bistro, is a favorite among locals they wish they could keep to themselves. Only having been open for a few months, the bistro is often full early in the evening on the weekends. I was very relieved to get one of the last tables when I arrived at 6 p.m. on a Saturday. 

Do not let the location deceive you. It is located in a high end shopping center on upper Willamette, only a few doors down from Whole Foods Market. Once you walk in the door, the ambiance created helps you to forget where you are -- Low light with votive candles.
The menu offers many exotic proteins from mussels to frog legs and veal to rabbit. Per the season, many of their dishes feature truffles, a treat most households are not familiar with but is like velvet on your palate. The attention to detail is very impressive, even sprinkling sea salt over the table butter to accompany the fresh French bread.

The highlight of my trip to the restaurant was the french onion soup. I fancy myself a connoisseur of french onion soup, finding myself drawn to sample it if it is on the menu. Even when I do not mean to order it, "French onion soup, please," falls out of my mouth as if my appetite speaks for me. The french onion soup at The Black Rabbit Bistro is rich, unique, and absolutely delicious. The browned chicken stock gives the soup its rich flavor, but only the start of what makes the soup unique. I have encountered many variations of how to present the cheese and the crouton on the soup: On top, on bottom, big crouton, little cheese and vice versa. At the bistro, the soup is served in a larger bowl with a small french baguette crouton and the perfect amount of cheese. How do I explain what I mean by perfect? The cheese is in no way overwhelming, where no matter how you spoon the soup, every bite is saturated with cheese. However, cheese is not an afterthought in this soup. It is very much a happy medium done thoughtfully. Black Rabbit Bistro's french onion soup dominates the top of my list of favorite soups. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Very Viennese Christmas

You can smell it before you can see it. 

Bratwurst cooking on the grill, hazelnuts, literally, roasting on an open fire, gluhwein, a hot spiced wine, permeating the air around you. Before you arrive at the annual Christmas Markets in Vienna, Austria, you already feel as if you are in a Christmas song. 

Upon arriving at the world famous market, you first spot the breathtaking Parliament building in the background. It has a tall clock tower in the center and four steeples. The windows are covered with large blue boards and number one through 24, creating an advent calendar to countdown the days until Christmas. The Christmas stands of stained wooden houses form a small village in front of the building. Each stand has an evergreen roof lined with pine awnings and bright clear Christmas lights.

The air is so chilly on this November day that hat, gloves, and a warm mug filled with some alcoholic beverage are required. Hot chocolate with Bailey's, gluhwein, or punsch, a warm version of an Italian spritz with Campari or Aperol, are among the simplest choices of the day at the market. The more difficult choices are presented at the market stands. Overwhelming would be the best word to describe the feeling from the immense variety of Christmas products available for purchase. Ornaments, decorations, Christmas lights, Christmas food, marionettes, Santa figurines, snowman figurines, angel figurines, postcards, stuffed animals, jewelery, dried fruit and spice awnings, literally everything you could imagine dealing with Christmas is available at this market. 

Having grown up celebrating Christmas with a German influence, many of the decorations were familiar to me, making me feel nostalgic for the comforts of home. I searched high and low for a Santa figurine that portrayed the traditional German Santa attire, a long red jacket, skinnier build, and a long grey beard. Of the close to 100 storefronts, I found my Santa in only one. I was overjoyed. Not only did this storefront have my Santa, they had the cutest snowman dressed in a red and white stripped shirt, a top hat and big black boots. He carries a red bag overflowing with toys and a lantern his way. Next, off to my next goal: German trinkets. 

In the United States, the cost of an authentic German nutcracker has risen dramatically, as well as the rarity that they are found in American Christmas stores. Mostly, nutcrackers made in China or Japan are complete knockoffs the more valuable, original German versions. Therefore, coming across a world full of authentic German nutcrackers for an extraordinarily low price of 40 Euro was like finding heaven on earth. In addition to the nutcrackers, there were little wooden traveling smokers available, and I snatched up the last two at the storefront. The smokers are delicate little wooden figurines that come apart in the middle to burn incense in them. The smoke then comes out of their mouths to make them look as if they are smoking out of the metal pipes they hold. One of the smokers I bough holds a birdcage in his fragile hands, while the other is walking his wood dog. 

Walking around the market, you are constantly preceded by the sight of your breath, reminding you of the frigid temperature outside. Throughout the day, the temperature hovered at about 34 degrees. I decided it was best to sample a different kind of hot drink available at the market, so I purchased a Bailey's Irish Cream hot chocolate to help warm me up. As I clenched the mug in my hands, I realized how special of an experience I was currently wrapped up in and wondered when I would be able to experience something so memorable again. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to leave the Christmas markets the way I came: Smelling the scents of the market that make it so festive and special.